For most of the season, Matt Mazzoni was a dependable pitcher in the Mankato MoonDogs starting rotation. Now, he’ll be counted on to take over in the later innings.
Mazzoni pitched the last three innings without allowing a hit to preserve the 4-3 win for Mankato starter Alex Blackford and the MoonDogs in a Northwoods League matinee game Tuesday at Franklin Rogers Park.
“I’ll be coming in when the team needs me from now on,” said Mazzoni, who earned the save. “I won’t be starting anymore but I’m excited to help the team out from the bullpen.”
Blackford left the game with a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning, but the offense didn’t do much to provide insurance. Mazzoni walked his first two batters in the seventh, but Devin Thaut was caught stealing and Mazzoni picked Tony Kemp off first base to end the threat.
Five of the six outs Rochester put in play were ground outs. Two Honkers reached base in the ninth inning on an error and a walk with the tying run standing on third base.
Mazzoni got Thaut to ground out to short and struck Kemp out looking to end the game.
“It helps to have a strike-throwing guy like him in the bullpen,” said Mankato manager Mike Orchard. “He could be a closer or a set-up guy but he’s going to compete, throw strikes and mix three pitches.”
Mazzoni was 3-0 with an earned run average of 1.79 when he went to the bullpen.
“As a starter, you have to pace yourself,” said Mazzoni, a starter for his collegiate team, Fresno Pacific. “Coming out of the bullpen, you only have to go an inning or two and go all out and throw as hard as you can.”
The Mankato bats were asleep as Mazzoni kept the MoonDogs on top with only three hits through 72⁄3 innings.
Rochester scored all of its runs in the top of the third but Shaun Cooper hit a two-run double to the right-field gap in the bottom half.
Joe Loftus tied the game when he scored on an error and James Roberts scored on a Whitt Dorsey ground ball to give Mankato the lead.
Cooper’s big hit put the MoonDogs on the board but it also put Cooper in the club record books. His 47th and 48th RBIs of the season broke Jeremiah Piepkorn’s record set in 2003.
“It’s always a great feeling to break a record but I had no idea about it,” Cooper said. “Consistently, through the summer, I’m just trying to make contact and put a good swing on it.”
He leads the Northwoods League in RBIs, home runs (16) and is 14 points off the lead for batting average in his hunt for the NWL Triple Crown.
“He’s just locked in,” Orchard said. “The great thing about Cooper is that he works on all areas of hitting. He takes time during batting practice to do things right.”
The MoonDogs (9-9 in the second half) play Rochester again at 7 p.m. today in Rochester.